Hamburg has taken legal action at the German constitutional court ostensibly to defend itself against encroachments of the federal government on rights of the individual federal states. But underlying the action is quite a different debate. This is about “overcoming an outdated concept of the family” which aims to keep women away from the labour market through “false incentives” and intends to “throw away” 900 million euros on this each year instead of investing the money in the training of child-care workers and crèche places. Ninety-five percent of all those who receive child care subsidy are mothers and although a quarter of fathers make use of parental leave this clearly shows that the upbringing of the youngest children lies largely in the hands of their mothers.
The problem with this debate is that it is being held as a surrogate for a whole host of social issues and thus has become so ideologically charged that we threaten to lose sight of the children. Equality for women in work and life, hard-fought for over decades, the role of women in the countries of origin particularly of Muslim immigrants, the integration difficulties of many migrants, which affects primarily children with a lack of knowledge of German, are just as much part of this as the pressure on single parents to send their children to nursery because they need to go out to work or the increased expectation of a standard of living which can only be achieved through a dual income. Not least, too many children in German families also grow up under conditions which are marked by violence, addiction, consumerism and linguistic impoverishment and which are anything but child-friendly.
All of these things represent arguments for more nursery places for children and well-trained child-care workers as well as early language support. But it nevertheless remains only a part of the truth. The other part is that children need love, attentiveness, rhythm and a secure place to make themselves at home on earth in a trusting and vigorous way. A lovingly managed crèche can offer a lot of this but it nevertheless remains stressful for very young children if the caregivers change several times a day.
Anyone who accuses mothers who want to keep their children at home of having an “outdated concept of the family” and, indeed, refers to child care subsidy as a “keep away subsidy” is not only treating the children cynically but also their mothers. After all, who is being kept away from whom? What if this is not about keeping away but about closeness and comforting security?
It may well be that child care subsidy is an inadequate instrument; but the ideology that only professionals can bring up our youngest children quite definitely falls short of the mark.
PS: According to a Shell Youth Study, over a third of all young people are convinced that an intact family is the most important condition for a happy life; more than 90 percent are satisfied with their parents.
Henning Kullak-Ublick, class teacher from 1984–2010 at the Flensburg Free Waldorf School; board member of the German Association of Waldorf Schools, the Friends of Waldorf Education and the International Forum for Steiner/Waldorf Education – The Hague Circle.